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« Motivation is the art of getting people to do
what you want them to do because they want to do it. »

Increasing the motivation for Physics using English
as a medium of teaching
A Constantin1  M Kassab2

1 National College "Radu Greceanu", 8, N.Balcescu
Slatina, OLT County, Romania

2Hajr Health Science Institute, Saudi Arabia

Using a second language as a medium of teaching other subjects is a controversial issue which engendered vivid disputes. When this subject is a science like Mathematics or Physics, people tend to think that the foreign language could become a serious handicap.
The authors of this article consider that English medium could be a high impetus and exciting motivator for learning Physics, if the instructional approach is adequate to the specific context. Far from considering exhaustive, we suggest some strategies which can increase the interest of pupils for studying Physics in bilingual classes, as well as for enhancing the degree of concepts’ understanding. For we don't believe that using the medium, English language, is the barrier but the way we use the medium itself.
The present paper is based on the factual and deep research teaching experience in one of bilingual classes in Romania and shows both the advantages and disadvantages. Besides, it reveals students opinions concerning the impact of learning Physics in a foreign language.
One important thing is to move away from plain language as far as possible so we have to use games, visual aids, songs and extra-activities to convey the concept and improve the linguistic ability.
At a first sight, teaching Physics in classes of humanities could be seen like an easy issue. The syllabus is less intricate than that in similar classes with scientific profiles. The problems and experiments are less difficult and therefore one could say that it is more comfortable for a teacher to conduct such a class. However, it is clear that scientific education may not only comprise facts and laws, but also has to clarify the scientific background of Physics terms and laws viewed from philosophy of science [1].
On the other hand, the teacher who “faces” a class of humanities is confronted with a problem which is somehow general, but more accentuated in such a situation: the lack of motivation. How to motivate the students for learning Physics, when it is known that their interest is in the fields of literature, languages, history, arts? It was the first and key question which bothered one of the authors of this article before having started the education in a bilingual class in Romania. The idea of teaching Physics through the medium of English seemed to be a bold one for the beginning. The reasons: nobody had taught Physics in English there, we had no appropriate schoolbooks. Moreover, it was clear that teaching Physics in a second language requires a specific pedagogy which supports learners in developing both subject-matter knowledge and the language skills which are the vehicle for acquiring that knowledge. « Excellence on the physics side has to be complemented with excellence in terms of pedagogy [2]. »
A solution came from CLIL concept. CLIL is an acronym for Content and Language Integrated Learning and refers to any dual-focused educational context in which an additional language, thus not usually the first language of the learners involved, is used as a medium in the teaching and learning of non-language content [3]. Shortly, the basis of CLIL is that content subjects are taught and learnt in a language which is not the mother tongue of the learners. There is no doubt that learning a language and learning through a language are concurrent processes, but implementing CLIL requires a rethink of the traditional concepts of the language classroom and the language teacher [4].
“In many countries, science is taught in a second language, often English. This is the case, for example, in bilingual streams in schools in Europe and further afield, in English-medium education in Africa and in multicultural schools in the UK, North America or Australia. Expertise in English-medium science education, however, is scarce.” It is the conclusion before the seminar “Teaching Science through English”, Sheffield, 2-7 February 2004.
The availability of CLIL-trained teachers is extremely limited in Romania. In general, schools are pioneering CLIL approach in different ways and the favourite subjects are often history and geography. The Centre of National Language (CILT) also revealed a range of different approaches to timetabling CLIL from isolated lessons to a whole year’s commitment [5].
Even if the content subject is the primary focus in the CLIL classroom, it is obvious that a high proficiency in English is demanded from the teacher. Therefore, the collaboration between Physics and English teachers is very useful.
More details of CLIL could be found on the site To better understand why CLIL teaching was chosen as a way of increasing the awareness and motivation for Physics we will briefly expose the four principles of CLIL:

*content-progression in knowledge, skills and understanding related to specific elements of defined curriculum
*communication-using language to learn-whilst learning to use language
*cognition-developing thinking skills which link concept formation (abstract and concrete), understanding and language
*culture-exposure to alternative perspectives and shared understandings which deepen awareness of otherness and self.

The present paper is based on two whole years of teaching experience in a bilingual class and shows the ways used to increase pupils’ interest in terms of CLIL. We convey also both the advantages and disadvantages which appear in this approach and some students’ opinions regarding their benefits during the course.
The authors of this article consider that English medium could be a high impetus and exciting motivator for learning Physics, if the instructional approach is adequate to the specific context. Far from considering exhaustive, we suggest some strategies which can increase the interest of pupils for studying Physics in bilingual classes, as well as for enhancing the degree of concepts’ understanding.

Bilingual class
The background of the class was the following:
-initially the class was formed by 30 students (aged 15 years) in the first year of high school;
-the students’ results in the process of admission were ranged between 9.83 and 8.50 (out of 10);
-all students passed an exam of English before admission;
-all students were already familiarized with the basic notions in Physics during the previous three years in their middle school;
-the profile of the class: Humanities;
-all students had studied English at least for four years and could fluently speak English.

Why Sciences in general and why Physics?
The educators are responsible to provide everyone with the background knowledge to help us cope with the fast-paced of today of tomorrow. We live in an age of constant scientific discovery - a world shaped by revolutionary new technologies. Just looking in a newspaper one could discover headlines whose meanings are difficult to be understood without scientific literacy. To be scientific literate is not only an issue related to the appreciation and understanding of the world around, but also an issue that directly opens one’s career opportunities. In a modern society to understand scientific issues has got multiple aspects: civic, aesthetic and intellectual [6]. In this context, science educators all over the world joined their efforts in promoting new powerful educational approaches so that everyone to share the adventure of science. Talking about Physics, it is clear that this is « the largest and most useful tool we have for taking the occurrences of nature, of a vast variety, and making them amenable to man's mind [7]. »
It is absolutely necessary to begin the Physics course with an introduction about the importance of Physics in daily life and about science literacy in general. First of all the majority of students raise this question: “Why use to study Physics if we chose a class of humanities?” The introduction mustn’t be seen as a singular lesson. The teacher should always emphasize as much as possible the importance and applicability of each item. 

Why Physics in English?
Teaching Physics in English as a foreign language involves some new things. The main one is that students are learning not only the subject-matter knowledge and skills, but also the specific language which is the vehicle for that subject. Thus, the efforts both from the part of teacher and students are higher.
Despite of the criticism which points out bilingual education, we consider this new trend in education very helpful with the condition of rethinking learning and teaching principles that aid in the acquisition of both language and content.
The effectiveness of bilingual approach is revealed by the multiple advantages entailed by it:

  • Build intercultural knowledge and understanding
  • Develop intercultural skills
  • Introduce the wider cultural context
  • Prepare for internationalization, specifically EU integration
  • Access International Certification
  • Enhance the school profile
  • Improve overall and specific language competence
  • Develop communication skills
  • Deepen awareness of both mother tongue and target language
  • Prepare for future studies and / or working life
  • Develop multilingual interests and attitudes
  • Complement individual learning strategies
  • Diversify methods and forms of classroom teaching and learning
  • Increase learner motivation [3].

The best advantage in a class where students has got a good level of English is that they won’t focus on language in the detriment of subject content. Evidently, using the language in a new field leads to the raising of student confidence by inducing the awareness of the value of transferable skills and knowledge.

Matching Course Goals and Personal Learning Goals, Interests and Background Knowledge
The course goals must be chosen at an appropriate level with personal learning goals. Besides, to capitalize students’ background and make use of their own interests represent an art as well as a crucial key for successful education. Therefore good information about the students’ knowledge on the subject and their personal skills and hobbies helps the teacher to find “hooks” for implementing new information.
One of the most important and just difficult moments of lesson is the start of it when the teacher tries to captivate the students’ attention. Good information about students makes this job easier and directs the teacher toward the most adequate ways of introduction in a certain topic.
On the whole, in a class with a humanistic profile, lecture constitutes one of the main hobbies. Consequently, to know what are students preferences in reading can help teacher to raise questions related to certain books. There are many examples of books (let’s think of Jules Verne’s novels for instance), where Physics is embedded in nice and attractive stories. There are also poems which “translate” in an artistic and philosophical approach a specific Physics’ concept. For example, the wonderful poem “To the star” by Eminescu is always a successful way of starting a lesson about light speed:

“So far it is athwart the blue
To where yon star appears,
That for its light to reach our view
Has needed thousand years. 

Maybe those ages gone it shed
Its glow, then languished in the skies,
Yet only now its rays have sped
Their journey to our eyes.

The icon of the star that died
Slowly the vault ascended;
Time was ere it could first be spied,
We see now what is ended.[..]”
Shorts excerpts from books, newspapers, but also paintings, songs or movies (artistic and documentary) are also great points of start in teaching new lessons. There are a huge number of examples in which we can create a bridge from Humanities towards Physics. It is already known that humour enhances the quality of learning. The jokes relevant and related to lesson’s content always incite learners’ curiosity. Some quotes could be start points for a concept. For instance, the well-known quote of Einstein: “Gravity is not responsible for people falling in love” was a great clue for gravitational interaction and aroused students’ interest for the topic. Each introductory presentation should be followed by discussions related to its content. Teacher should also notice the ways that students perceive it and guide them toward the correct meaning. Since the successful learning demands an active engagement of the students it is recommended that the introduction in each lesson to be based in a certain measure on students’ previous knowledge. In some situation it can come from students with helping questions.
To examine the role that Physics plays in literature, painting, music engendered a positive emotional involvement of students in the class of humanities. Being sensitive to arts in general, the students are easier captivated with “artistic examples” and “gained” for Physics.

Specific language in Physics
Physics is very rich in specialized words which have multiple meanings. Usually it is well to begin from the everyday meaning which is more likely to be known and to extrapolate it in Physics’ field. To identify the key words is a very important task. In addition, word roots are very helpful to develop an understanding of the scientific meaning of the word. Initially, it can be given by teacher and then students can be guided to do it by themselves and to discover the common and scientific meanings of different words with the help of the dictionary. To learn words them along with the scientific content is the best way of acquisition scientific language. A good command of target language is also compulsory in order to have an accurate understanding of concepts [8]. 

Listening, reading, writing and talking
In our opinion, teaching Physics through the medium of English should not drive students away from the content of subject. Thus, the accent in such approach must be on Physics. However, there is a close interaction between the two fields (scientific and foreign language). Learning Physics includes learning the language of Physics. Thus, the teacher is responsible both for progresses in Physics and English fields. The aim is: “using English to learn and learning to use English”. One of the advantages of bilingual approach is that we can borrow from the strategies specific for learning foreign languages. Learning Physics through the medium of English have to develop equally the communication skills. A short schema of these skills and some related aspects may be conveyed as it follows:
 In this regard, the teacher must implement various activities within the lessons. To be efficient, the questions, exercises and experiments should be gradated in terms of the six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. These activities may be used for “leading” purposes activities as well for assessment.

Class and Homework Tasks
Far from being a burden, the tasks and homework could become exciting if they are diversified and related to students’ interests and hobbies. To teach in a bilingual class is an advantage regarding the palette of task types. Taking into account the profile of the class as well as students’ abilities the teacher has to alternate the tasks in order to arouse students’ curiosity and enthusiasm. Moreover, tasks have to develop students’ creativity. Writing problems, essays, short poems, drawing, building posters which illustrate concepts and laws, building different simple devices for laboratory were activities in which we discovered that students participated with much pleasure and often demonstrated their special talents.

Text Box:  Figure 2Examples: 1. Present in your own style (draw, poster, poem, etc.) the statement of Newton’s second law. (see figure 2 with an example of students’ works).

2. One of the most exciting tasks was that to ask the students to prepare and teach a lesson, usually when it did not introduce difficult concepts. They assumed the role of teacher with much responsibility and made a serious research on internet in this regard. The lessons presented in Power Point demonstrated a good preparation and understanding of materials.

An important thing is to acknowledge the effort made with sufficient feedback to make students feel that it was worthwhile in reaching their goals. Positive feedback in class is rewarding and increase motivation. In addition, teacher should help the students to appreciate the satisfaction of having mastered material. It entails that students focus on learning as a goal rather than on grades.
Another aspects related to feedback is its frequency and the variety of forms. Frequent and diverse feedbacks renewed the students’ enthusiasm.  Allowing students to present their works, for instance, increases the motivation, because it permits them to shape the lesson in their own style and also to achieve their goals. [9]
Cooperative learning should also be considered in assigning the tasks. Working in teams provides more opportunities for all students. At the same time, collaboration develops social and interpersonal skills.

Computer Assistance Teaching (CAT)
It is very known the widespread use of computer in the process of education. Today, teachers are proud to implement CAT in the process of instruction.
In bilingual classes, apart from audio-video presentations which are common for all types of lessons, we could use specific materials either for Physics or for language and better mix them. Virtual experiments, online tests, software for mastering words adapted for specific language, games are just a few from the huge ways in which computer activities can be implemented in bilingual class. “Students are not blank slates. What they learn depends strongly on what they know - or think they know. Students learn best through active engagement - but "hands-on" activities are not enough; it must be "brains-on" as well.” What we want to emphasize too is that we promote the use of computer but cautiously. The presentations or software programs should be carefully chosen and adapted to the class profile. “The same program, used in different ways can produce highly positive effects -or none.”[10]

Talking about the evaluation our opinion is that in bilingual classes it is recommended to use informal assessment rather than a formal one (by tests, quizzes or papers). Even if ones of informal alternatives could appear to be unfair, we consider that these alternatives are very good to eliminate the negative effects of formal assessment as well as to motivate the active participation of students during the course.
Here are some of informal alternatives used in bilingual class:
-continuous assessment-which include a number of assignments
-student portfolio
-teacher’s assessment-which is related to work done throughout the course included classroom contributions.

There are many advantages of teaching Physics through the medium of Physics. In our opinion, the main one is that the approach is topic focused and that it offers the students the opportunity to develop the language through the content. Both Physics and English are enhanced. Moreover, when the teacher achieves interesting bridge between Physics and student’s goals and interest, students may be more motivated than when the focus is solely on the nuts and bolts of the subject.
Students’ opinions revealed the positive effect which the course produced in the two years of teaching Physics in English:
“For the beginning I was a little scared. It seemed to me that Physics is hard, but Physics in English appeared to be too much. The truth is that I was enthralled by this course. It was something else than what we had before. Besides, I learned many things both in English and Physics”
“The course was exciting. We were not stressed by difficult and boring formula. The various activities helped us to learn interesting things. My vocabulary was evidently enhanced, but the most important is that I am now more confident in debating various topics related to science”
A main disadvantage in teaching Physics through the medium of English was the lack of materials. To prepare the lessons requested a high effort from the teacher. In this work an English teacher was involved also to assure the accuracy of the language. Talking about students it should notice the difficulty of learning new things when they are taught in a foreign language. We considered the efforts made were rewarded by the students’ achievements.
Students’ positive answers, our survey and feedback determined us to conclude that teaching Physics in English increases motivation and enhances the pupils' learning experience by exploiting the synergies between the two subjects [5].

1. Gesche Pospiech “ Physics in Media-Opportunities for Training Scientific Thinking” Informal Learning and Public Understanding of Physics, 3th International GIREP Seminar 2005, Selected Contributions
2. Manfred Euler, “A word from the President”,
7. Eric Smith, “Fundamental Concepts of  Century Physics”,
8. John Clegg, “Providing language support in CLIL”,
10. Edward Redish, “Is the Computer Appropriate for Teaching Physics?” Computers in Physics, 7(6), 613 (1993)

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